First lessons from the Garmin

If you have read the previous post regarding my acquisition of a Garmin Edge 500 cycle computer, then this will mean a little more to you.  On Sunday afternoon I did a 30 mile ride using the new toy, in order to get a decent and meaningful road test under my belt.  It makes quite a difference to your riding, that’s all I can say.

The fact that the computer has a heart rate monitor is what has altered my approach to riding.  You strap the monitor round your chest, and it connects wirelessly [using a technology known as ANT+] to the computer unit.  This achieved, you have the most meaningful of all methods of monitoring your riding,

The Theory:

Heart rate training is a way of making riding a bike a little more scientific, with a view to a) knowing what your body is up to while exercising and b) should you wish to do so, allowing you to monitor improvements to your riding.  You do this by taking two initial measurements – resting heart rate and maximum heart rate.  Then, everything in between the two gets carved up into [normally] five ‘zones’.  The idea is that you then set your riding style and effort to keep within a certain zone, depending upon what kind of training you are doing.

The [initial] Practice:

So, what is it like with a real-time figure showing you how hard your ticker is working as you pedal?  At first, quite weird.  If you are naturally squeamish, like me, then you actually become very conscious of this thing beating away inside your chest, and you start worrying about it.  I would roughly liken this initial sensation to the feeling [I] get when I am in a plane: unless I stop worrying and fretting, this aircraft will drop from the sky – it is only my personal penury that it holding it in the air at 35,000 feet.  Well, so it seems to be with the heart rate monitor – you find yourself thinking ‘if I relax/try too hard/stop thinking guilty thoughts, I will see my heart rate suddenly decline to zero, followed by a loud, constant beeeeeeep from my cycle computer as I lay, tangled and dying, in a ditch.  But after about an hour, you begin to get used to the idea and you actually become rather fascinated with the displayed figure.  Firstly, I began to notice that riding on the flat will make your heart rate drop dramatically [it is always tending to drop back to ‘resting’ level unless stimulated by something], whereas you begin also to see what is going to unfold on a hill ascent – it will quickly increase to whatever ceiling your approach demands, and, at the top, will begin to drop back again within two or three seconds.

Have a look at the sample data that the unit captures from the ride, as shown below [this is just a small bit of the overall data!]

The strange thing is that, after riding for a few days with the monitor on, and having become used to the heart rate display, you become strangely able to adjust your heart rate and control it by altering your riding style.  Speed and average speed become secondary; you are no longer worried about them.  What you are doing is conditioning your system to a certain type of riding, be it endurance [low heart rate] or speed/power [high heart rate].

The unit will also capture GPS markers as you ride, so that an automatic map is produced and this is then overlaid onto Bing Maps when you upload the ride data onto the Garmin Connect website:

Using it for something more than just a pose:

I shall  not try to teach anybody about training themselves in this way, because I am not a sports scientist and do not pretend to be an exercise guru.  I am using some basic stuff from an issue of Cycling Plus to get me going – that is, I am working on my endurance and distance abilities.  I used to be all about getting to my destination as fast as possible – and so I would often bonk with ten or so miles left to ride, and not really understand why.  Now I have considered it a bit more, I realise that I was going out for a ride, often with inappropriate amounts of hydration / energy, riding as fast as I could [it was all about speed, and average speed at the end of the ride], and hoping that I would make it to the end, always drenched in sweat and exhausted but happy.  On my first century ride last year, I suffered like hell and now I understand why.  I pushed myself too had to make a high-speed, and didn’t think about the distance implications.

What happens, you see, is that high-intensity exercise will stimulate the body’s ‘fight or flight’ responses, and this type of exertion uses only the energy stored in the bloodstream – not the fat stored in your body.  The immediately available energy is a finite resource, and thus after a set time, you will ‘bonk’ as sure as eggs are….errr….eggs.

Discipline is Key:

Yes, discipline is what was missing from my riding.  If I saw a hill/another rider or indeed anything else that piqued my excitement, I threw myself at it.  And while it feels great to hammer past a group of carbon-shod roadies on your steel touring bike, Rohloff whirring like a Swiss watch, the fact that in two hours you will be glugging Lucozade by the side of a Norfolk lane, hands shaking, just so you can get home again is far from your mind.  And when doing heart rate training, you just can’t spunk all your vital energy supplies like an excited labrador every time your eyes fix upon distant black, white and red lycra clad forms.  If you are doing a three-hour session in zone 2, it may well be that an old lady on a Pashley complete with small dog in the wicker basket overtakes you with a fruity ‘Good Morning Young Man’ – you do not, repeat DO NOT pursue to show everybody how hard you are!  It demands Zen-like concentration to maintain the levels of effort, and my big problem area at the moment is hills.  I just love climbing them fast, and of course this will push your heart rate from 120 to 170 bpm in about five seconds, thus wrecking your consistency and upsetting what you are trying to achieve.  But if you bear with it, the results are remarkable.

Enough for today – the remarkable results:

On my ride, I did my usual ‘short’ distance of 30 miles.  But when I got home, instead of collapsing off my bike and falling on to the sofa, I honestly felt like I could have done it again.  I felt completely fresh and had burnt 800 calories [my Sunday lunch] into the bargain.   I had [pretty much] managed to stay in zone 2 throughout, and so my average speed was 2-3 mph lower than I had been used to.  My aim is to get to the point where a century is a do-able day out and not, like last year, something I will aim at, but end up a broken man at 75 miles.  And I shall achieve it – further progress reports to follow.


One response

  1. Marjorie P'Snappes

    I’d be interested to see how the Garmin would interpret my ride this morning;
    Train cancelled – Rode to work through freezing fog in jeans + threadbare M&S workshirt ‘base layer’ combo.
    No food, no water.
    Did it in 1 Hr40.
    2 hours & 2 stale doughnuts later i’ve just about recovered.

    Analyze that motherfucker…..

    March 3, 2011 at 11:03 am

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